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Shengyang named one of the nation’s most-innovative researchers

Scientist named one of the nation’s most-innovative researchers

Contact: Layne Cameron, University Relations, Office: (517) 353-8819, Cell: (765) 748-4827, layne.cameron@ur.msu.edu; Sheng Yang He, Plant Biology, Office: (517) (517) 353-9181, hes@msu.edu

Published: June 16, 2011 E-mail Editor ShareThis

Sheng Yang HeSheng Yang He, MSU plant biologist, has been named a HHMI-GBMF Investigator, an honor that will see his salary, benefits and research expenses covered for the next five years. Photo courtesy of Gary Malerba AP and HHMI

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Sheng Yang He, plant biologist at Michigan State University, has been named one of the nation’s most-innovative plant scientists as part of a $75 million new plant science research initiative.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation honored He, from the MSU-Department of Energy Plant Research Laboratory, and 14 other researchers from around the country. The honor will see He’s salary, benefits and research expenses covered for the next five years or longer.

“The magnitude of being named an HHMI-GBMF Investigator hasn’t sunken in, yet,” said He, who is the first MSU professor to earn the award. “It is quite an honor to be selected from a pool of the nation’s best plant scientists, including some of my outstanding colleagues at MSU. It truly reflects the long-term commitment of MSU to make plant science research and education among the nation’s best.”

For nearly 20 years, He has been plotting an original course of research. In the 1990s, he veered away from the area of research most budding plant molecular biologists were pursuing.

“Most of my colleagues were trying to understand how plants defend themselves against disease, the molecular basis of plant resistance,” said He, whose research is funded in part by MSU AgBioResearch. “But I thought the opposite – I wanted to know why plants are susceptible to disease.”

Much of He’s research has focused on the Type III secretion system, a formidable bacterial weapon. Plant scientists have known for years that bacteria secrete disease-promoting proteins, but conventional wisdom held that those proteins affected host cells from the outside. He discovered that some of these proteins act inside plant cells.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we could find a way to inactivate the pathogen’s Type III secretion system?” He asked.

He, who was selected from nearly 240 applicants, will begin his new appointment in September. He is eligible for renewal for another five-year term.

HHMI and GBMF formed the collaboration because of concern that basic science research has long been underfunded in the United States.

“We think the creation of our joint program underscores the importance of investing in fundamental plant science, and we hope it will encourage others in the United States to make analogous commitments,” said Robert Tjian, HHMI president. “We are as excited as these scientists are to begin putting their best ideas into action.”

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